Some of us remember growing up during the cold war where part of our instruction in elementary school was being taught what to do during an atomic attack. Using a small school desk to shield against an atomic bomb never seemed to make much sense but we were instructed to get under our desks.
An organized office of civil defense by federal and state governments in the United States goes back as far as World War I when European nations were attacked from the air. Although the United States had always been thought to be safe from attacks from the air, World War II brought the reality that citizens needed to be prepared if such an attack happened.
Today the Office of Civil Defense has been replaced by the Department of Homeland Security, run and staffed by paid professionals. In the 1950’s the idea was for community volunteers to staff the programs and not only to watch for enemy aircraft but to prepare the population in what to do if an attack were to take place. In 1941 the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was established as a group of volunteer pilots who would scan the skies as they flew looking for possible enemy aircraft. Also volunteer spotters were trained to look for enemy aircraft while sitting in posts on top of public buildings. The idea was to staff the posts with volunteers for 24 hours a day which was quite a task in northern climates. Volunteers were acknowledged by the USAF for their dedication with some serving thousands of hours manning the posts. Finding volunteers was a difficult mission for sure.
In addition to running a small sign shop in Niagara Falls, on September 11, 1952 Carl J. Cooper was appointed as supervisor of the aircraft spotters in the Niagara Falls, NY unit of the Aircraft Warning Service, Ground Observer Corps part of the USAF Continental Air Command. His job as a volunteer was to recruit and train fellow citizens to identify and determine the altitude and distance of Soviet Union aircraft coming over Canada into the United States. The first post was on top of which was at the time Gaskill Middle School on Hyde Park Blvd. In 1955 this group of volunteers built its newest observation deck on top of Niagara Falls City Hall. A full page ad in the Niagara Falls Gazette, August 5, 1955 proclaimed “Be a Paul Revere” join the Ground Observer Corps and invited the public to an open house on top of city hall.
On November 20, 1958 Carl Cooper received a letter from the White House and President Dwight Eisenhower stating “Our country is indebted to you for your steadfast, unselfish and willing service in a cause of vital importance to our air defense”. Volunteers had been replaced by powerful radars capable of identifying enemy aircraft well before they reached our borders. On January 1, 1959 Carl Cooper was named an Honorary Life Member of the United States Air Force Air Defense Team.